By: Kerry Ingram, Arts & Life Editor
Mid-semester can mean balancing schoolwork and other responsibilities for any college student, but for Mariela Pepin, she had a separate calling that filled up her schedule.
Passing by fellow students wearing their notebook-filled backpacks to class, Pepin wore the title of “Miss Maryland USA” engraved across her newly acquired sash.
“I still am in disbelief,” Pepin said. “It’s all still such a blur.”
Just a month ago, Pepin was in major preparation mode. The 22-year-old Towson communications major was in the midst of studies for her final semester, while also getting ready to compete in the annual Miss Maryland USA pageant for the 2019 title. Between classes and studying, Pepin trained regularly in the gym, practiced her poise and posture, and looked for ways to make herself just as emotionally well-rounded.
Towson University President Kim Schatzel applauded Pepin’s accomplishment.
“When we have students that aspire and have ambitions that they fulfill or [that] they advance, we just want to celebrate the fact that they’re part of our community and the fact that our community supported them as they were moving in that direction,” Schatzel said.
Marina Cooper, Vice President for University Marketing and Communications at TU, also shared Schatzel’s excitement towards Pepin’s accomplished role. Cooper once held the title of Miss Maryland USA, and went on to compete in the Miss USA pageant.
“It’s always exciting for us to see our TU students set an ambitious goal, put in the hard work necessary, and then achieve it,” Cooper said. “That’s what I did, a long time ago. I wanted to pay for college and to be the first Marylander to compete at both Miss America and Miss USA. I did it and earned a spot as a finalist in both national competitions, which allowed me to graduate college debt-free.”
Cooper expressed how juggling school studies with pageantry responsibilities was a feat to be proud of. Pepin agreed.
“Pageants are definitely a lot of work,” Pepin said. “I had to learn how to walk properly, how to pose the right way with the right angles and narrow down what looks best for me and my body type…There’s a lot of physical prep involved, but the biggest thing is definitely the mental preparation that goes into it.”
Pepin stressed how although pageants involved physical-based categories, the core importance of them is based off of internal attributes. Pepin held level headedness and charity near to her, and her honest tone and authentic background only helped to further make her point.
Pepin, who was born in Puerto Rico before moving to Maryland, didn’t originally have plans to compete in pageants. Growing up in a home with parents who nurtured the idea of giving back to the community, Pepin was more interested in finding ways to make a meaningful impact on those around her while helping to promote acceptance and diversity. She began to volunteer for Best Buddies, an international nonprofit dedicated to providing opportunities for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as Happy Helpers for the Homeless, a group that gives back to individuals struck with poverty.
Pepin discovered her passion for public speaking in high school, where she was approached by Bobbi Coffman, who introduced her to the idea of pageants.
“Bobbi actually worked at my high school cafeteria,” Pepin said. “She was the head chaperon there at the time and had asked me if I’d be interested in competing.” After contemplating the offer for a while, Pepin finally agreed to try her hand at pageantry life. “She became my coach from that point on and helped me to prepare,” Pepin said. “I’ve been glad I did it ever since.”
Coffman helped Pepin train for her first pageant, Miss Maryland Teen USA in 2014, which she went on to win. Pepin has only competed in four pageants total, with her latest being the Miss Maryland USA 2019 pageant that she won the title of.
According to the Miss Maryland USA official website, Pepin’s recent win made her one of six women to ever have held both the Miss Maryland Teen USA and Miss Maryland USA titles.
Pepin created Fearless for Life, an initiative to promote confidence and positivity no matter what obstacles life throws. She promotes her Fearless for Life messages through social posts and at public speaking engagements throughout the year.
Pepin said she hopes to continue increasing the size of the impact she makes on those around her. She recently served on a mission trip to Puerto Rico, where she worked to help those still trying to rebuild their homes and lives after last year’s Hurricane Maria.
With her graduating in December, she expressed how she also wanted to continue her schooling for a Master’s degree in nonprofit communications. With that degree, she hopes to get a career in marketing or public relations for an international charitable organization.
“My major has helped me to realize how much I love communications, and how I can incorporate that into pageant life,” Pepin said. “I really enjoy seeing the other side of pageantry, with organizing and putting together the entire productions. The team in Maryland is really great and they communicate really well. I wouldn’t mind directing the [Miss USA Maryland] pageant one day.”
With Pepin temporarily replacing her crown for a graduation cap come December, she’s determined to have her poise and positivity reflect onto the Towson community.